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AAA Music | 30 November 2020

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Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws

| On 13, Jul 2010

Releasing a totally acoustic album early in your career can be a massive gamble, especially when you’re also riding on the possibility of the dreaded second album syndrome, but Bombay Bicycle Club have ploughed on regardless, releasing ‘Flaws’ as an intrepid departure from familiar shores of a sound grounded in plugged-in indie rock.

The first thing I notice about this album, is its fragile sound. The guitar work, particularly on tracks such as ‘Leaving Blues’ is with a doubt incredibly beautiful, but there’s something about the way it sounds, perhaps the crystalline production and bare-bones approach, makes the songs on offer feel as though they are incredibly delicate. However, this is not a criticism. Instead, it lends a dreamy atmosphere throughout the album, and this creates a sense of intimacy that is not so much beneficial but vital to an album such as this. All the songs are straight from the heart of a hopeless romantic, combining limpid poetry with breathy sentiment spun from sugar, or a deep anxiety expressed in a deceptively low-key manner. ‘There Are Many Ways’ is a to-the-numbers example of this, the vocals almost whispered underneath a lullaby patchwork of pretty songwriting and an overall mood of tranquillity until you listen closely to the lyrics, at which point another tale of worry and nervous love comes through.

Rinse Me Down’ provides a suitably summery opening, with soft yet clear drums blending idyllically with gentle guitar work to create a tranquil moment of peace. And as beautiful as the proceedings are, the guitar melodies exquisite and the combination of country, folk, indie and pop balanced in a truly admirable manner, this is an album that proves difficult to listen to if only for the fact that many of the songs possess an incredibly similar sound and end up blurring into one another, leaving little surface to capture listeners. This is fine if you are looking for some background music, but if you are trying to listen more closely, your attention wanes, which is frustrating given the passion evident here.

‘My God’ switches up the mood for possibly the first time on the album, creating a nervous patchwork of agitated flamenco-tinted trills on guitar followed by counter melodies and a whisper of skittering percussion. This leads almost perfectly onto ‘Flaws’, which is almost the aftermath of whatever struck the previous song. The melancholy guitar melody tugs at the heartstrings with a rare tenacity, and the addition of female backing vocals adds a ghostly, mournful quality, and the whole song, from the first notes to the final strum, seems incredibly subdued.

The finale, ‘Swansea/Evening/Morning’ feels like a reconciliation, with a mesmerising riff and wordless backing vocals coupled with humming that works surprisingly well. However, the introduction of a synth skews the mood somewhat, and distracts the listener from what is quite possibly one of the most beautiful songs to be found here. The hidden track is a quirky couple of minutes that has a dynamic energy to it that would have been welcome spread across the other songs.

At times, the lyrics can get beyond twee into the realm of cheesy, such as “maybe we will find a thousand sugar fish/and when you eat them they will grant your every wish” on ‘Fairytale Lullaby’, while easily catching an already fluttering heart and shining eye, would turn many cynics away from this album.

As a word of warning, Steadman’s vocals bear a heavy resemblance to the (in)famous Morrissey, and with that territory comes the Marmite principle of either loving the distinct sound or finding it very difficult to listen to, and so if you like Morrissey, you’re in with a chance, if not, give this album a try nonetheless but you might find a similar problem here.

Overall, this is an album could be a truly heartstopping collection of achingly wonderful tracks, but unfortunately lacks the bite to do so, and while indeed a beautiful piece of sound that shines on the surface, only the last three tracks contain enough variation to sustain close attention.

Author: Katie H-Halinski